Future of Work

A vacation from work could be a lifesaver

Local tourists poses for a photograph on the shores of Lake Namtso, Tibet Autonomous Region May 10, 2011. Namtso Lake, which means sacred or heaven lake in Tibetan, is 4,718 metres (15,479 feet) above sea level and is the second largest salt-water lake in China next to Qinghai Lake. Picture taken May 10, 2011. REUTERS/Rooney Chen (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL)

An extended break from work is necessary to relax properly. Image: REUTERS/Rooney Chen

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
Briony Harris
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Future of Work

The next time you feel stressed at work and need to get away from it all, it might be a good idea to act on your intuition and book travel tickets for an extended break.

A new study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, suggests there is a link between taking longer holidays and mortality rate.

The research looked at data from 1,222 middle-aged male executives in Finland born between 1919 and 1934. The original research was actually intended to monitor blood pressure and stress and explore ways to encourage a healthier lifestyle. All the men chosen to participate in the study had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The participants were also asked to record when they were going on vacations. And - 40 years later, now that a significant number of the men have died - the new revelations about the value of holidays have come to light.

About half of the men were receiving regular interventions, such as advice every four months to do aerobic physical activity, eat a healthy diet and stop smoking.

It was within this group of men that vacations seem to have had a significant impact on health outcomes. The businessmen in this group who took three weeks or less annual holiday had a 37% greater risk of dying between 1974 and 2004 than those who took over three weeks.

The message from the researchers is that an extended break from work is necessary to relax properly, alongside other steps to ensure a healthy lifestyle.

"The harm caused by the intensive lifestyle regime was concentrated in a subgroup of men with shorter yearly vacation time," explains one of the researchers Professor Timo Strandberg of the University of Helsinki.

“Don’t think having an otherwise healthy lifestyle will compensate for working too hard and not taking holidays: Vacations can be a good way to relieve stress,” he says.

 People who took shorter vacations were more likely to die
Image: European Society of Cardiology

The fear of getting behind

The report’s findings may make be of particular interest to people around the world who are not using their full holiday allowance.

Not everyone in the world has the right to paid vacations. In the US, for example, employers have no legal right to award paid vacation time to their workers. And a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that 1 in 4 private sector employees had zero paid leave.

But even when there are paid holiday entitlements, peer pressure and workplace attitudes can sometimes prevent people from taking a break. Some workers fear they may not appear fully committed to their work, while others fear that someone else will do a better job in their absence.

Have you read?

In a recent survey of the holiday habits of more than 15,000 adults in 30 different countries, Japan came bottom of the league table when it came to not taking allotted annual leave, with South Korea and Singapore also at the bottom of the list.

Reasons given for failing to take a proper break include feeling guilty or wanting to show solidarity with colleagues.

But the problem isn’t restricted to Asia, which is notorious for its culture of long-working hours.

A separate survey by Acas in 2015 suggests that only half of UK employees take all of their annual leave allowance, with worries over falling behind cropping up as the most common reason given.

Fears over losing a job can be very real. And some of the reasons given for not wanting to be absent for a couple of weeks may even seem logical or justifiable.

However, it may be time to rethink. A simple holiday could make far more difference than you realise.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Future of WorkMental HealthEconomic Progress
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